The Shroud of Turin to be Retested

You can call it an obsession if you like, but I am still fascinated by the Shroud of Turin -- the cloth imprinted with the image of a man that some claim to be the burial shroud of Jesus Christ. As I have stated previously, there are good reasons to think that it is real and equally good reasons to think that it's a fake. I personally haven't made up my mind one way or another about the Shroud, for while it is truly a fascinating artifact, if it is ever demonstrated conclusively not to be the actual burial cloth of Jesus it will have absolutely no impact on my faith. Still, the possibility that it is genuine is one of the things that make the Shroud so fascinating.

To many, the inauthenticity of the Shroud was sealed in 1988 when carbon-dating experts ran a test on a small portion of the Shroud and determined that the cloth dated from the 13th or 14th Century. Previously, I noted that physicist Raymond N. Rogers believed that the carbon dating gave an inaccurate date for the shroud because the portion of the Shroud sampled was a rewoven section which would give a false date. Apparently, that argument didn't result in a retesting.

However, according to an article in the Chicago Tribune by Electa Draper entitled Lab agrees to test Shroud of Turin for new theory, a Colorado-based physicist named John Jackson has convinced the lab that performed the original test to re-evaluate its findings. According to the article:

Professor Christopher Ramsey, head of the Oxford University Radiocarbon Accelerator Unit, has agreed to test Jackson's hypothesis that contamination by carbon monoxide could throw off radiocarbon dating by more than a millennium.

It is possible, Jackson said, that even minimal contamination of the shroud by environmental carbon monoxide could have skewed the dating by 1,300 years — making it not medieval but contemporaneous with Jesus's life.

Jackson, who must prove a viable pathway for that contamination, is working with Oxford to test samples of linen under the various conditions the shroud has endured, such as outdoor exhibitions and exposure to extreme heat during a 1532 fire.

"Science still has much to tell us about the shroud," said Jackson, a devout Catholic. "If we are dealing with the burial cloth of Christ, it is the witness to the birth of Christianity. But my faith doesn't depend on that outcome."

While I will certainly be interested in the results of these new evaluations, I concur with Jackson when he says that faith doesn't hinge on the authenticity of the Shroud as the actual burial cloth of Jesus. The New Testament doesn't say, "believe in Jesus because we have his burial shroud." It contends that we should believe in Jesus because of the testimony of the witnesses to the fact that he has risen. The Shroud, if it is the burial cloth of Jesus, adds weight to those claims because the image implanted in the Shroud has yet to be explained. As the article further notes,

The shroud is either authentic or a hoax so ingenious that state-of-the-art scientific analysis has yet to explain how it was done,said David Rolfe, director of a new documentary, "Shroud of Turin."

"The shroud is brilliant and unfathomable," Rolfe said.

But the Shroud is not the basis of Christian faith, and if there had never been a Shroud then Christianity would still be what it is.

I look forward to the re-evaluation of the scientific-based dating of the Shroud, and will post any additional information that I come across.


Jason Pratt said…
Nifty! Once I read the actual carbon dating reports, I didn't accept the notion that the backing or repairs to the shroud or particulate carbon from the fire, had anything to do with skewing the data. Carbon monoxide infiltration, though, might be a factor worth exploring. (Or not. We'll see; that's how 'scientia' goes, even literally. {g})

I agree about so many other shroud evidence factors being intriguing, btw; there's a freakish level of data across a broad topical spectrum pointing toward, let us say, extreme implausibilities for the hoax hypothesis being true. The carbon dating results are the only scientific roadblock so far--but a pretty serious roadblock, too.

Peter said…
This is good for the Christianity; the Christians cannot lose.

If the science proofs again that the Scroud is not from the 14th century, the Christians can be sure it must be the burial shroud of Jesus Christ (not Apollonius', Vespanius' or of another holy man).

If the science proofs that the Scroud is from the 14th century, the Christians can just deny that the science is right, keep on stating that "I personally haven't made up my mind one way or another about the Shroud" or "faith doesn't hinge on the authenticity of the Shroud". The Christians can then ponder what went wrong that they did not get the right result and re-test it in twenty years time.

Next up: the other shrouds, the splinters of the cross and the Holy Prepuce.
Jason Pratt said…

Did you even read Bill's post (or my comment for that matter)?

The positive details of the Shroud (which are many) very solidly exclude it being Apoll's or the Emperor Vespasian's, or any other holy man of which we have some awareness. They don't, strictly speaking, exclude some other currently unknown Semetic Jewish nazarite crucified stabbed holy man whose burial in geography and flora commensurate with the Jerusalem region of Palestine might have somehow left otherwise inexplicable 3-D vector markings on his burial shroud (somewhat like the 'shadows' left behind after the radiation pulses of a nuclear explosion); but by definition that unknown fellow would still be strikingly similar to Jesus' case. And since, also by definition, that fellow would be 'unknown', what would be the grounds for not making a probative identification with Jesus?!

That being said, since neither Bill nor I base our faith on the Shroud, then neither Bill nor I (as we specifically said) are going to be hurt by scientific proofs that the Shroud is a 14th century forgery (or 7th century perhaps). But, scientifically speaking, we're going to be stuck trying to account for a substantial amount of other data, if that happens. A late-forgery dating solves one problem but introduces ten or twenty more. Not a good trade; though if that's how it goes then that's just how it goes. {shrug}

Also, there's nothing unscientific about re-checking procedures every once in a while to see if the procedures missed an option. If the testing didn't screen for CO infiltration, and if CO infiltration might cause dating problems, then there are scientific grounds for figuring out the proper calibration and doing retests. And again, if solving one problem introduces ten or twenty others, then the persistence of the other problems gives scientific grounds for rechecking the one solved problem periodically.

It's a pretty normal procedure. The topic just happens to be a very unusual one.

Jason Pratt said…
Relatedly, back last year when the Jesus Tomb debacle was being thrown in people's faces, did any of us complain that it was a no-lose situation for non-Christians? Because, after all, if that tomb had turned out to be true, then at least some major doctrine would be removed from our beliefs and non-Christians would be (to that extent) validated in their rejection of Christianity; but if the tomb turned out to be spurious, non-Christians up to that point hadn't based their non-Christianity on the tomb, so how would they be down any? Even if they backed the tomb and then were proven wrong to do so, their beliefs against Christianity would only be back to where they had been.

So, would it have been fair for us to complain that the non-Christians couldn't lose with that? (Or with this "Bloodline" thing vying for popularity this year?)

Spencer said…
Hey guys,
I've written a paper on the problem of induction, arguing that it can be resolved using Buddhist metaphysics (particularly the doctrine of emptiness.) Specifically, I argue that the problem rests on a mistaken view of reality - that there are essences and intrinsic natures. I know this isn't directly about theism or atheism, but if the arguments for emptiness are correct, then it seems that theism is in trouble.

I'm looking for some feedback on my paper. Would anyone be willing to read it? If so, please send me an e-mail at; I look forward to having some good discussions!
Jason Pratt said…
{{I know this isn't directly about theism or atheism...}}

Or even to the topic at hand. {s}

{{...but if the arguments for emptiness are correct, then it seems that theism is in trouble.}}

That would be true regardless of whether the doctrine of emptiness resolved the problem of induction (insofar as there's a problem...?)

Of somewhat more immediate importance, if there is no such thing as essence and intrinsic nature, then you couldn't exist for us to be having a discussion with 'you' about the topic. In effect, I have to resolutely deny your thesis in order to talk with 'you' about whether it's true or not.

(I've occasionally discussed principle applications similar to this earlier in the ongoing HSIBAS series of entries, here on the journal; and will be doing so again a few weeks from now in my next series of entries, "Reason and the First Person". I'm about finished with HSIBAS. {g})

Anyway, I don't mind reading your paper--you're welcome to email it to me (I think my email address is around here somewhere, or you can email to the Cadre generally and the sys-admin will pass it along). But keep in mind that in order to take 'you' seriously in what 'you' are trying to reason about, I'll have to presume 'you' exist per se--which means I'll have to presume at least one essence and/or intrinsic nature exists.

(If you were advocating positive pantheism, your position could perhaps be that there is no such thing as a plurality of essences and/or intrinsic natures, which I would actually partially agree with; but when you connect this to a Buddhist doctrine of emptiness, you seem to be going in the direction of denying essence and/or intrinsic nature per se. But perhaps I'm wrong about the direction of your proposed thrust; I can foresee at least a couple of ways I might be wrong about that.)

Jason Pratt said…
Incidentally, Rad confirms that he's denying essence and intrinsic nature per se; but denies that persons require essence and/or intrinsic nature to exist (much moreso that the doctrine of emptiness involves the non-existence of persons.)

I'll be looking over his paper and doing private correspondence on it (after this weekend), and insofar as some of the issues touch topics in the HSIBAS series I may draft a follow-up entry discussing the issues more directly before moving into Section Two of the entries.

Spencer said…
Also, Jason, please forward my paper to the other CADRE members; I'd like their input as well.


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